What has a refugee ever done for you? Probably more than you think.
By Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy/Refugee Lobbyist, Amnesty International USA
When you go about your daily life, you might not give that much thought to where the things you use came from or how the people around you got there. The person helping you at the store, your doctor, who made your breakfast sandwich, your Uber driver, your child’s teacher, or your state legislator. Chances are high though that a refugee works at the placethat produces the food you eat, represents you at your state capitol, or is helping research a medical approach you’ll benefit from. Refugees, and their decedents, are all around you, and benefit your life in countless ways whether you realize it or not.
But let’s back track for a second: we are currently living in the worst refugee crisis on record.
Tens of millions of people, spread throughout the world, have been forced from their homes because of wars and persecution. Some of them were tired of living amidst war, fearful their lives or that of their children would be taken at any moment; others were tired of being persecuted because of who they are or what they believe; still others were forced from their home, like the Rohingya in Myanmar, shot at by the very governments that should be protecting them.
Whatever their reason for leaving we must not forget — refugees are human beingswho, through deeply unfortunate circumstances, have lost their homes.
I fear that the word “refugee” has been stigmatized beyond recognition. Yet another issue distorted by political or fear mongering rhetoric. When you hear the numbers — 65.6 million displaced, including over 22 million refugees, half of whom are children — it can be rather easy to not know what to do or even ignore it all together. Further, constantly barraged by politicians we should be able to trust spouting things that only serve to divide, it is understandable how some begin to fear that which they don’t know.
While there are in fact millions of U.N. registered refugees, only a tiny fraction of them will ever be eligible for what is known as third country resettlement. Most will either remain in the country to which they initially fled (called integration) or voluntarily return to their home country. Resettlement though remains a vital, and far underutilized, durable solution. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimatesthat there are over 1.2 million refugees in need of resettlement. Despite this overwhelming need, last year under 70,000 were resettled in a third country compared to 126,291 refugees the year before. How can that be? How can it be that at a time of such crisis, the world is turning away?
The U.S. government is the first place we should look to for answers. President Obama, in the last refugee determination of his Administration, set the goal at an ambitious but achievable 110,000 refugees to be protected in Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17). President Trump, in one of his first acts as President, sought to reduce this goal to a devastating 50,000 refugees. Then, despite bipartisan support spread throughout the nation, he lowered it again in FY 2018 to 45,000. Halfway through the fiscal year, the US barely reached 10,500 refugees. We should be much further along if we’re going to reach the already lowered goal.
As an example of the refugees left behind when we needlessly lower or stop refugee resettlement here in the U.S., these last few weeks Amnesty International USA has been campaigningfor Sam,a refugee who worked as an interpreter in Iraq and is now stuck in limbo in Egypt, which could return him to Iraq at any moment (a violation of international law). Sam has a community waiting to welcome him, but because of this Administration’s policies, he is left wondering if he’ll ever find safety, and be joined with those who are advocating for him here.
Now, there’s severe cause for alarm that the President, and those decision makers around him, will lower the refugee goal even further. When the just confirmed Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) pushed himon the Administration’s embarrassing failure to resettle even a quarter of this year’s goal. His answer was not surprisingly non-committal at best, and his record worse yet. While in Congress, Secretary Pompeo cosponsored legislation that would have suspended the refugee admissions program outright. This, and other concerns about his record on human rightsis serious cause for concern as the head of the Department of State, and the bureau responsible for resettling refugees here in the U.S. and protecting them abroad. We’ll be pushing him to have a different approach in his new role.
Now, back to what refugees do for you. Refugees want to work when they get here. While some take manually hard, vital to our economy, jobs, they’re also doctors, teachers, law enforcement officers, diplomats, artists… the list is endless because what people can do is endless.
And refugees contribute,significantly, to our country and its economy. We should always be working to stop the human rights abuses that cause refugees to flee in the first place. But for those with nowhere else to turn, it is countries like the United States that should be stepping up to ensure their safety. We’ll be better and stronger for it in the short term — and generations to come will see the dividends of their countless contributions.
Want to act? Call your Member of Congress today and urge them to tell the Administration to reach the refugee admissions goal this year, and set a higher refugee admissions goal next year.